Malnutrition in Refugees

  • Vineetha Sheggari
  • Dr. V.R.K. Womens Medical College, Hyderabad, Telangana

Refugee is defined as an individual that has fled their country due to unexpected circumstances. Such situations could be natural disasters, ongoing wars, violence, or persecution. Mainly, the refuges flee their country to escape the horrendous consequences of these situations. However, the suffering does not end there. After moving to another place, the refugees have to adapt to the new environment, culture, and language. In addition, to these obstacles many refuges face many health issues due to lack of resources provided to them. After a geopolitical instability, the citizens unfortunately decide to leave the country in hopes of a better life elsewhere or because of the mere hope of survival elsewhere. Most refugee lives change drastically where one day they were enjoying their hot cooked meal in the comfort of their clean house to living in plastics tents for months on end eating whatever they could find just for mere survival. When they travel to another place, malnutrition, measles, malaria, respiratory diseases, diarrheal diseases are some health problems a refugee might face (1).

The refugees face these problems due to the lack of proper food, water, and environment, sanitation during the travel or during the stay in the other country. The food that is being provided are usually perishable items as the food needs to be able to be clean and consumable for a long period of time as a majority of refugees do not have proper ways of food storage. Unfortunately, these perishable food items do not provide a sufficient amount of calories a person needs. In the long run, this is leading to malnutrition in these refugees. For example, the “food basket” that was provided by the World Food Program to Somali Refugees were made of “staple ingredients and a corn soya blend fortified with nutrients” that had a nutritional value of only 726 calories and 20 grams of protein (2). This is low compared to the caloric value of an average meal in the U.S. of 900 calories (2).

Some of the refugees are not eating food of low calories also as they exchange the food for other necessary items instead. Due to the limited resources, some refugees even have to fight for their food. Another big issue in refugees is the water source for the refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 42% of school going refugees in a Ugandan refugee camp are interrupted for water collection (3). In the camps, refugees have to pump water. The UNCHR states that long term pumping of high volumes of water can lead to decrease in the water quantity and quality over time (3). This will eventually lead to decrease in water source which leads many infectious diseases like cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, polio.

Diarrhea leads to dehydration and which in many children can cause death. One of the major issues faced by refugees are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Around 70, 000 refugees arrive in the United States of America every year (4). In the years of 2003-2010, 25,779 refugees had a screening medical examination. Around 18,000 refugees tested positive for at least one STI. 5,873 of those refugees were tested positive for multiple STIs (4). Hence, screening for the STIs in refugees is very important to detect the infection early and give proper treatment. Refugees are more prone to get infected with STIs. Another reason is that most refugees come from poorly developed countries which have poor education and less screening tests done to prevent these STIs. In order to reduce the suffering of the refugees, all the countries in the world should play a hand in resolving the problems of these citizens. Wherever globally there is a situation where the citizens will most likely decide to flee their country, other countries should be willing to keep the refugees and also provide them adequate resources in refugee camps. In May 1993, Doctors created a practical protocol for treating severely malnourished refugee children. It includes “80 gm dried skimmed milk; 50 gm sugar; and 60 gm oil, minerals, and vitamins per liter of feed” (5). It should be administered 100ml/kg/day initially and then 200 ml/kg/day. Keeping the formula in the fridge or lactobacillus fermentation can prolong its life. They also recommended to mix “1 WHO-ORS packet, 1 sachet of each mineral used in making the formula, and 50 gm sugar in 2 l of water to make an isotonic rehydration solution” (5). Proper water should be made available to refugees. According to the UNHCR, regular testing of the water should be carried out. Even the locals of the camp should be educated on how to test if the water is safe or not. Screening and medical examination should be done before a country allows refugees into their country. In conclusion, refugees face a lot of struggles fleeing from their home country to another unknown land.

Many refugees face health issues due to lack of proper water, food, sanitation, structured environment. Due to the lack of resources, many refugees suffer from malnutrition, measles, malaria, respiratory disease, diarrheal diseases. In most refugee camps, the food being provided is of low calories and the refugees go into malnutrition state. The water is not readily available and is not of good quality leading to manly infectious diseases. In addition, refugees suffer from STIs due to lack of proper education, screening tests and sexual abuse. These issues can be resolved when countries nearby are willing to take in the refugees and provide them with adequate resources and conductance of proper physical medical examinations, screening tests. In addition, more research should be conducted in the field of perishable foods that are have abundant in vitamins and minerals so that the malnutrition is less in the refugee population. Investing in such research can improve the health of the refugees.

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